New guide on feathered visitors to Lancelin islands

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Coastal development and human (and domestic dog and off-road vehicle) disturbance to birds nesting on beaches and shorelines are the major threats to the fairy tern.

CONSERVATION efforts to protect fairy terns, which visit islands off Lancelin, will receive a boost with the release of a new edition of the Western Australian fairy tern conservation guide.

Migratory fairy terns can often be seen nesting and raising fledglings on sandy beaches and coastal areas around Perth during summer months, returning to locations as far north as Exmouth during winter. The exposed nesting sites preferred by the birds can make them vulnerable to vehicles, foot traffic, pets, and feral animals.

A Conservation Council of WA (CCWA) statement said it was estimated there were 3000 pairs of fairy terns in WA but this could be a significant underestimate.

In 2016 Perth NRM coastal and marine program manager Craig Wilson said there were thought to be about 1600 breeding pairs in WA.

The Western Australian fairy tern conservation guide was compiled by CCWA citizen science coordinator Nic Dunlop with contributions from members of the Western Australian Fairy Tern Network.

The network has more than 200 observers actively involved in a research program to study the numbers and distribution and breeding biology of the birds.

Aimed at community groups and land managers, the guide provides important advice and guidance on the protection of the fairy terns and their nesting habitat.

Dr Dunlop said community involvement was critical in understanding and managing impacts on fairy terns.

“The lives of these threatened seabirds interact with many coastal management issues including the health of near-shore marine habitats, shoreline stability, changing sea-level, introduced weeds, feral animals, and the behavioural interactions between people and wildlife,’’ he said.

“Coastal development and human (and domestic dog and off-road vehicle) disturbance to fairy terns nesting on beaches and shorelines are the major threats near Perth and throughout the densely populated South West of the state.

“Although not currently rare, the species is listed as threatened and is at least ‘conservation dependent’, i.e. requiring dedicated species-specific management to maintain a viable population.

“Beyond that however, the continued presence of these charismatic birds stands as both an indicator and a symbol of ecological sustainability in south-western Australia’s coastal zone.”

Mr Wilson said generally, fairy terns were found at the mouth of estuaries (North Fremantle, Peel Harvey), on islands (Rottnest, Carnac) or sand spits (Point Walter, Point Peron, Woodman Point).

“I am not aware of any breeding colonies in the northern beaches of Perth however locations such as the offshore islands of Lancelin do support fairy terns,’’ he said.

“Fairy terns feed on small bait fish and can be seen dipping into near shore waters before heading back to their breeding colonies.

“Nesting sites consist of a shallow scape in the sand with one or two specked eggs that blend into the background.’’

Publishing of the second edition was supported by the Northern Agricultural Catchment Council.

Copies of the guide are available from CCWA in Perth, BirdLife WA in Perth, the Northern Agricultural Catchment Council in Geraldton, and the Peel-Harvey Catchment Council in Mandurah.

They can also be downloaded from the CCWA website at http://www.ccwa.org.au/fairyterns